Buried in the offseason ramblings of Orioles beat writers down in Sarasota yesterday was a potentially worrisome article by The Baltimore Sun’s Jon Meoli entitled “Orioles know pitcher Hunter Harvey could test their plans to be careful with him in 2018.”
Woah? What? Okay, maybe this isn’t as bad as the headline makes it sound. Beat writers don’t always have their fingers exactly on the pulse of what the O’s braintrust is thinking/doing, and it’s difficult to come up with a story at this point in the year.
Bad news if you don’t like ruining highly-touted prospects: Buck Showalter didn’t rule-out using Harvey in the MLB bullpen or even rotation when asked for a quote on this topic. From Jon Meoli’s article:
Even with Harvey having pitched just 31 1/3 innings over the past three seasons, which were sunk by a fractured leg, sports hernia surgery and Tommy John elbow reconstruction, there’s little doubt among the Orioles brass that he could be among their best pitchers in major league camp this year and force a decision that’s equal parts uncomfortable and enticing, at least for the 2018 club.
”Let’s put it this way — if he didn’t have options, he may not go down,” Showalter said Monday at the club’s annual pitching minicamp. “I think he’d be capable of handling that. But I think in a perfect world, I don’t know if we’re going to have that luxury of carrying someone like that in the bullpen. It’s not in his best interest to be in the bullpen if you can help it. But we’ll see how it progresses. I’m not coming in with any binders on him. He’s a pitcher. He’s a normal, regular pitcher in the spring, and we’re going to treat him as such. He’s over it [the litany of injuries longer than his current MiLB career].
There are more than a few concerning items in this small bit of writing. The first of which is that the Birds seem to be glossing over the fact that Harvey has thrown a combined 31.1 IP over the past three seasons combined. Dude is made of glass. Sure he’s only 23 years old, and may be past it, but I would argue that the most basic logic dictates to be careful with him.
The next items raising a red flag is that the Orioles brass believe Harvey could be among the best pitchers in camp this Spring. Perhaps that’s more a reflection of his raw talent (astronomical), but this can also be read as an indictment of a team bereft of arms.
The O’s have already tried a few crazy things to fill their rotation holes—not the least of which includes changing their plan for Manny Machado and deciding to ask other teams to send all of their good, young pitching over in return for a year of the Orioles superstar.
Who’s to say that same desperation won’t cause the Birds to do something rash with Hunter Harvey? Let’s take a step back and recognize that Harvey is a 23 year-old who hasn’t thrown a full season since 2014 when he was in Low A Delmarva, and that a full season was 87.2 IP thrown.
As mentioned prior, since then, Harvey has had three major injuries including Tommy John surgery, and has thrown a combined 31.1 IP. So, while Buck Showalter did say that in a perfect world, Harvey wouldn’t be tossed into the MLB bullpen (or rotation—the quote is a bit unclear), he does go on to say that Harvey would probably “be capable of handling that,” and he’s “not coming in with any binders on him” and that he would be treated like a “regular pitcher.”
Okay... please raise your hand if you think that this is the definition of prospect mishandling. I hope all of your hands are up. Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe Harvey will have a great season of building-up his innings totals in the mid-minors, and we’ll see him for fun in September. Maybe he’ll stay healthy, and his MLB service time clock won’t start ticking in March.
But he certainly isn’t a “regular pitcher,” and the plan can’t be to assess him in Spring Training for a spot on the MLB club—it just can’t be.
Look, I’m not saying that Harvey doesn’t have potential. He got potential by the ton. But the Orioles were forced to throw Dylan Bundy out of the bullpen to start the 2016 season and slowly build his innings totals in the majors because he was out of options. That was a bad decision, but the objectively worse one would have been losing him on waivers.
What the Orioles have gotten in return for being forced to make that decision is a guy who should be an “ace” that has had uneven results, significant setbacks, and is two years closer to becoming a free agent without ever having lived-up to his lofty potential (yet?). But baby Birds don’t stay baby Birds forever (see: Manny Machado).
That extra service time matters, and Dylan Bundy has spent two years of his looking more like he’s training to be a big league pitcher than actually being one (flashes of brilliance notwithstanding).
The O’s aren’t being forced to do anything they shouldn’t do with Hunter Harvey. Hunter Harvey isn’t Dylan Bundy. Hunter Harvey has options, and the Orioles have some thinking to do.
What do you think?